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Pena Nieto Outlines Agenda on Drug Trafficking, Economic Reforms

July 3, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Margaret Warner talks to Enrique Pena Nieto, who won Sunday's presidential election in Mexico, about drug-war violence, arms trafficking, plans to reform the Mexican economy and relations with the United States.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Two days ago, Mexicans went to the polls and elected a new president, Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Today, he sat down with our Margaret Warner in Mexico City to discuss his plans to refocus the drug war and reform the Mexican economy. Here is that interview.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. President-elect, thank you for having us. And congratulations.

Your closest rival in the race, Mr. Lopez Obrador, last night once again rejected the results, said it was fraudulent, said the PRI party had actually bought votes. Have you had a chance to look into the substance of those charges?

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO, Mexican President-Elect (through translator): I believe that in our country, fortunately, we have democratic institutions that are very solid and reliable.

We have electoral tribunals which will be responsible for addressing these issues and attending to these complaints, the ones filed by candidate Lopez Obrador. I am convinced that it was a truly exemplary processes, where more than 50 million — over 50 million Mexicans participated, with a difference of more than 3.2 million votes.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think it casts any doubt on the legitimacy of your election?

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): I don’t have doubt in terms of the confidence of the majority I received.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, in both the campaign and on election night, you promised to reduce the violence that’s plaguing the lives of ordinary Mexicans, 55,000 dead. How are you going to do that? Is it by focusing on the most violent cartels?

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): It’s quite clear that the fight against organized crime is something we cannot relinquish. It is a task, an obligation for the Mexican government.

My commitment is to lead this fight with efficiency and more results. There are achievements made by the current federal administration, and some institutions have been strengthened. We’re going to need to adjust the strategy to achieve this major objective in the fight on organized crime.

I’m talking about reducing violence. I’m talking about the strategy that doesn’t have the support of society. If we don’t have the support of society, we will hardly see the benefits or the support we need to actually improve conditions of security for society.

MARGARET WARNER: But how? I mean, your advisers are talking about reconcentrating the firepower you have, the military, on the most violent cartels.

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): I will maintain the presence of a Mexican army, and the navy and police in the states of the Mexican republic, where the problem of crime has been increasing.

We will adjust the strategy so that we can focus on certain types of crimes, like kidnapping, homicide, extortion, which today, unfortunately, have worsened or increased, because we have a lot of impunity in some parts of the country. The state’s task is to achieve more efficiency, and to go back to the rule of law and apply or enforce laws strictly in our country.

MARGARET WARNER: Is there a tradeoff between going after the drug kingpins who are responsible for most of the trafficking of drugs into the U.S. and — or focusing on the violent cartels that are taking the lives of ordinary Mexicans? Do you have to do less of one to do more of the other?

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): Look, I believe that there’s a concern around this issue in terms of assuming that this adjustment would mean not going after cartels involving drug trafficking.

No, absolutely not. I want to be very clear. The fight by the government will be against organized crime, drug trafficking in all its forms and shapes. But we have to focus especially on reducing violence. But that doesn’t mean we should overlook or relinquish this task by the state, the fight against all forms of organized crime.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the president of Uruguay just I think last week has proposed that, in his country, sales of marijuana should be legalized and regulated by the government, that interdiction just hasn’t worked. At least take the money out of the market, the black market that the cartels are making so much off.

Is that something Mexico should consider?

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): I have publicly said that I’m against legalization of drugs. I don’t believe that this is the path to reduce violence and illegal trafficking of these products.

However, I am in favor of opening up a new debate around the strategy and way to fight drug trafficking. It is very clear that after several years of this fight on drug trafficking, we have more drug consumption and drug use and drug trafficking. That means that we’re not moving in the right direction. Things are not working.

And I’m not saying that we should legalize. It’s exactly the opposite. I’m against legalization, but with a debate where countries in the hemisphere — and especially the U.S. — should participate in this broad debate to redefine the way in which we fight drug trafficking.

MARGARET WARNER: So you would like the U.S. to also be considering its position on legalization of drugs?

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): I’m truly convinced that the U.S. should be involved in the discussion and the debate around this issue.

MARGARET WARNER: So, let the debate begin, but you’re not taking a position yet?

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): That’s right.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, how would you — the American officials are actually of the belief that the U.S.-Mexico relationship has been further strengthened over the past six years. Is there anything about the relationship you would like to change?

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): On the contrary, I’m in favor of strengthening or improving relations with the U.S., without a doubt.

In my conversation with President Obama yesterday, when he called me to congratulate me, he told me — and I fully agree with it — that we should maintain this level of collaboration that has existed so far between the U.S. and the Mexican governments.

And I’m interested in improving that level of collaboration, redefining the objects of the bilateral agenda and strengthening sovereignties and the collaboration and respect around these issues for both governments. MARGARET WARNER: Would you like the United States to assist in this more intense focus on the really violent cartels, such as the Zetas, that is, also going after their customers in the United States?

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): Well, I believe that the U.S. has collaborated significantly with the current Mexican government.

My objective is to intensify this action and collaborate more, especially when it comes to fighting these drug cartels and organized crime groups. We need to have safer borders. But that also requires more collaboration from the U.S. government and an increased commitment to define policies and actions that, together with the Mexican government, will allow us to achieve better results.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think it is practical to hope or expect or demand that the U.S. do more to stop the flow of especially assault weapons from the U.S. to Mexico?

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): This is an issue that has been surrounded by a high level of debate. And we have insisting on getting the U.S. more involved in fighting the arms trafficking.

Unfortunately, it has had a major impact. The problem has killed thousands of Mexicans, unfortunately. And it is an issue that, without a doubt, is unsolved. We have not seen a good level of efficiency by the U.S. in terms of how to better control arms trafficking — I’m talking about high-caliber weapons — into our country.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, you have promised that you represent a new generation of the PRI. You said you were going to have a new way of governing.

But voters here sounded dubious to us. One Mexico City voter said, you can’t take Pena Nieto out of the PRI bubble. He was elected with the help of this machine. He’s going to owe it.

What would you say to him?

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): Look, Margaret, first of all, whoever says that is not recognizing the political change occurring in Mexico in recent years.

Mexico has a much more cohesive democracy today. We’re a plural, diverse country with an equal participation of the different political forces. My political party has been there for some time. We are governing several Mexican states. And with this new trust from the Mexican people, without a doubt, our capacity to prove ourselves will be tested.

They will test this competence through results, through achievements. This will be the new face of the PRI and the PRI governing democracy.

MARGARET WARNER: And some of your most ambitious ideas for the economy, bringing competition into some of these big monopolies, from energy to telecom, it’s going to involve you taking on some real pillars of the PRI, some of the old guard. What’s your leverage with them? I mean, a lot of them have an interest in the status quo.

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): I’m fully convinced that the PRI, in this effort to promote competitiveness, more credit, fighting monopolies and pushing the energy reform I’m committed to, that the PRI will push it, will allow it to gain more social support.

And that will also allow my political party to increase its capacity to push these initiatives. It is clear that in order to achieve this objective, we will have to reach agreements to be able to push these reforms, to participate and become part of the effort to modernize our country.

MARGARET WARNER: One of your advisers said to me, it’s analogous to Nixon going to China. Only Nixon could go to China.

Do you think you’re in that position?

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): Without a doubt, the PRI is the political party with the political capacity and the strength to push structural reforms that will allow us to modernize our country.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. President, thank you so much. Best of luck.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret blogs about the interview, and you can find her past reports from Mexico, all on our Web site.